Principles of Great Design: Craftsmanship

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I love beautiful things. There’s very little in the world that takes my breath away quite like an object that was lovingly crafted, built with care and passion, and presented with the sort of pride that befits a marvelously well-made item.

That which is beautiful is increasingly difficult to come by in a world where a premium is placed on speed, and things are made to be disposable. We often sacrifice real craftsmanship at the altar of expediency. While we are still capable of recognizing the value of something that has been expertly constructed, we often choose the cheap and easy option instead.

For years, I shaved my face with a disposable razor. It did the job just fine. It was straightforward and easy. It even looked flashy. And every few weeks I’d pop off the disposable end, throw it away, and replace it with a ridiculously expensive new cartridge. I blew hundreds of dollars on razor cartridges over the years. And I never got shaves that I felt were perfect.

Straight Razor

About two years ago, I switched over to a beautifully crafted and expertly honed straight razor. I bought a hand-made heirloom razor strop, an excellent badger-hair brush, and some high-quality shave cream. I’ve never had better shaves in my life. The process has changed from an occasional annoyance, to a pleasurable ritual. I have tools that I will have for the rest of my life. Tools that will, likely, outlive me. They work better than my old tools. And, in the long run, they’re cheaper than my old disposables.

The difference in the level of craftsmanship between my old disposable razor and my new straight razor is vast. There is a significant and noticeable difference between cheap, mass-produced products, and hand-crafted, carefully detailed ones.

The standard line in this industry is that most clients don’t really know the difference between good design and great design. While that may be true, I contend that it is always possible to detect the hand of a dedicated artisan in her creations. To that end, I want to examine what we as designers can do to bring quality craftsmanship to our work.

What is craftsmanship?

Rolex

Craftsmanship is the quality that comes from creating with passion, care, and attention to detail. It is a quality that is honed, refined, and practiced over the course of a career. It is the quality that defines the difference between a Timex and a Rolex.

"Craftsmanship is what we should strive for, for the sake of both our reputations and our clients’ success."

We recognize craftsmanship in the attention to the little details. Patek Philippe SA, makers of the finest of all wristwatches, strive relentlessly for perfection in their work. From their simplest models, to their most complicated, the details are what makes the difference. Their perpetual calendar models automatically account for leap years, their star-chart models accurately reflect the sky, and even their simplest models are second-to-none in terms of elegance.

We recognize craftsmanship in an object’s functionality. Breitling’s Navitimer Chronograph wristwatches are designed with an exceptionally accurate slide-rule in the outer bezel. Well-crafted and highly effective don’t have to be expensive either. The Lamy fountain pen is inexpensive, simple, and lays down ink like a pen that cost 4 times as much.

We recognize craftsmanship in an object’s durability. My Moleskine notebook holds up perfectly, despite spending a large part of its life in my back pocket. My hand-made and carefully built razor strop will be an item I’m proud to pass along to the next generation.

What does this have to do with web design?

Old State

Our clients often want work done quickly and inexpensively. We grab our standard toolkits and templates and bags of snippets and tricks, and we put out a product that the client is reasonably happy with. So, why all this talk about watches and razors and pens and paper?

We didn’t get into this business to add to the great pool of mediocrity. There isn’t one designer out there who wants to produce work that’s just “okay”. We all want to produce web sites that impress, and make our clients say Wow! We want to create the sort of quality that earns us reputations as great designers.

Skilled professional designers and developers often find themselves in the regrettable position of being treated like tools for the exercise of client whims. It is a rare case when we are afforded the respect and acknowledgement that we deserve for the effort and time that we have dedicated to honing our craft.

Developing craftsmanship in our work is the key to escaping those things that are less desirable about the business we’re in. It is the key to creating sites that rise above the mediocre and average, and it is key to earning the respect of clients and customers.

"Artisans are accorded respect for the work they do."

How do we become artisans?

Craftsmanship, obviously, isn’t something that just happens. It requires a great deal of time, patience, and effort. Becoming a real artisan requires that you commit yourself to the continuous development of your craft. Traditionally, craftsmen developed their skills through apprenticeship to those masters of the craft who came before them. While we don’t often work that way in this day and age, there are a few things that we can do to emulate that process.

Practice

The first step is to practice. Practice every day. Design something new, walk though a tutorial, work on a personal project, whatever it takes to get you working with the tools of your trade each day. The more you do something, the better (and faster) you become at doing it. Practice is, without a doubt, the most important part of developing the quality of craftsmanship in your work.

Education

The second step is education. Web workers have the expertise of hundreds of others to draw upon, through blogs, online documents, and forums. It is critical to our craft that we take some time each week to work on building our skill sets. Use the myriad of resources available to you to further your education as a designer/developer. Read what your colleagues are writing. Participate in quality discussion. The more tools you have in your toolbox, the more likely you are to find the right one for the job.

Practice

Third, learn to accept criticism, and react appropriately. People have a hard time taking criticism of their work. When you put so much effort into a piece, it can be difficult to hear that what you’ve done isn’t good enough. However, nothing will help you improve so much as a good critic. Criticism isn’t personal. You and your critics have the same goal: a quality product. Learn to set aside your ego, and accept criticism as a means of improving the piece, rather than taking it as a personal affront. Request feedback from other designers, participate in design feedback forums, and set up usability and A/B tests. Soon, you’ll come to not just tolerate criticism, but actively appreciate how much it can help you grow and improve.

Detail

Fourth, pay attention to the details. As I mentioned earlier, this is where all of the difference is made. A true artisan is meticulous about the details. A website that looks beautiful, where the details have been attended to carefully, is a website that prompts return visits. Take the time to add polish and style to the small things that can easily go overlooked. Pay attention to hover states, borders, icon placement, grid alignment, microformats, semantic markup, and the like; these are the sorts of details that make the difference. Attentiveness to these details raises the quality of our work.

Future

Fifth, design for the future. Items that exhibit the quality of craftsmanship are timeless. They are built well, and built to last. Our websites should be as well. I realize that there’s an extraordinary amount of mutability in the work we do. Trends and practices change rapidly, there are always new features in the software we use, people develop new tools that give us more possibilities. But, despite the ever- changing face of this industry, it is possible to do work that has longevity. Progressive enhancement to include new standards, looking forward to new specifications, careful attention to best practices, and a willingness to step outside the box and take some risks all contribute to making a website that is designed to last.

A Call to Arms

"The standard line in this industry is that most clients don’t really know the difference between good design and great design."

We have the opportunity to change our perception of what we can deliver our clients, and give them credit for recognizing the quality we can provide. We have the opportunity to foster a perception of designers and developers as artisans, for whom craftsmanship is a top priority. It will make a difference to our business, to our clients, and to their customers. Furthermore, seeing ourselves as artisans, and working to build craftsmanship in the product we create, is the key to building quality reputations and securing our community’s future.

So, let’s get to work.

Please share with us your thoughts about this article. We’d love to have an interesting discussion about this subject so feel free to contribute to the discussion. Thank you for reading the article. You can follow the Design Informer on Twitter here.

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Richard Glover is rather fond of wristwatches, straight razors, fountain pens, and anything else that looks pretty and is well-made (In case you couldn't tell). He works as a designer, developer, and public speaking coach in Mesa, AZ. You should visit his website here.

  1. 1

    I love the idea of craftsmanship in design. Dan Cederholm has made a career out of talking/writing about this very thing. It’s a great way to present yourself and your work to your clients.
    .-= Brad C´s latest Blog Entry – The Brads – When all Else Fails =-.

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      I think the idea is great as well. I know exactly what you mean about Dan Cedarholm. You can tell that he is definitely a craftsman when it comes to web design. It’s exemplified in his beautifully designed website, SimpleBits, which by the way got a little bit of a redesign recently. :)

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  2. 3

    Excellent article!!!

    According to me, the most essential characteristic of a craftsman is Patience.

    Practice, Education, Accepting Criticism and attention to detail – all of them require patience.

    Somebody who is impatient cannot look into details and hence cannot design beautiful things.

    It’s really a nice thought of talking about craftsmanship in web design. Web Design is about beauty and functionality and I think we all can improve on these two things by practicing the art of craftsmanship. :)

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    • 4

      I couldn’t agree more, Adit. It’s extraordinarily important to have patience. I think patience and the ability to be deliberate and intentional with the process of design and development is the foundation upon which we can build craftsmanship in our work.

      Thanks for the great comment.
      .-= Richard Glover´s latest Blog Entry – Getting to WOW! : Designing for users =-.

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    • 5

      Exactly! The problem that I see happening a lot today is because we are so busy trying to make a living, we take on job after job and we design these websites without really putting our whole effort into it. That’s when patience needs to happen. We need to be more patient while designing, but sometimes, that’s hard to do when a client is breathing down our neck. ;)

      I think that’s what separates the best designers from the rest. You can check out their work and everything will be of the highest quality. This is what I am striving to do.

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  3. 6

    The most important rule: less is more!

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  4. 8

    Wow, that was a really great read! You had me hooked from the start, and your 5 steps are so well thought out, thanks for the inspiration!

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    • 9

      The same with me as well. I really had a great time reading this wonderful article as well. You can definitely notice that Richard has craftsmanship in his writing.

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  5. 10

    Another fantastic read! I guess craftsmanship speaks of one’s true dedication to the profession. It is what separates the good from the great and it most certainly determines the overall sophistication and quality of the end product. I definitely agree with the point on paying attention to detail. We must take every aspect of design seriously as intricate details can definitely make or break a project. Fantastic article and I would be very interested to see what the rest have to say about this!
    .-= Josh´s latest Blog Entry – The Death of Originality in Design- Coming to Terms =-.

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    • 11

      Thanks for stopping by Josh.

      “We must take every aspect of design seriously as intricate details can definitely make or break a project.”

      Yes, this is so true. I think it’s these little details that can definitely make a designer shine. Take for instance, that SimpleBits website that I referred to with Brad. The use of “Baskerville” as the ampersand definitely makes the design a lot better. It’s a small thing but that’s what craftsmanship is all about.

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  6. 12

    It amazes me how much your blog posts demonstrate this principle. It’s obvious that you don’t just type text and hit the publish key, but that you style every element of every post. Good article, and good showcase of the very principle you’ve addressed!
    .-= Brandon Cox´s latest Blog Entry – Spill It: Whats the Best Platform for Vlogging? =-.

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  7. 15

    Craftsmanship is why I’ve become somewhat obsessed with Apple products. I’ve also noticed that as I become more appreciative of details in others designs (and posts) it makes me work harder to portray that same attention to detail on my designs. Thanks for the inspiration!
    .-= Chris Thurman´s latest Blog Entry – Wet Logos: Showcase of Logo Designs Featuring Water =-.

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  8. 16

    Great tips man! I love Design Informer, always full of great ideas and tips for design. Keep up the awesome posts
    .-= Inside the Webb´s latest Blog Entry – Interview with Chris Spooner of Line25 Web Design Blog =-.

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  9. 18

    Great post!

    I think that the most important thing to becoming a craftsman in design is education, especially in the context of web design. All the other points, with the possible exception of accepting criticism, follow education. You can’t practice if you don’t educate yourself on what to practice, it’s hard to pay attention to detail when you don’t know what the ever changing details are and it’s impossible to design for the future if you don’t understand what the future could bring. This is why I’m so appreciative of this community and the great blogs that I’ve found here. There is so much to learn and we’re lucky to have so many people here that we can learn from.

    Keep up the great work!

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    • 19

      I think you make an excellent point, Eric. Further, I think that even accepting criticism is in the interest of advancing education. It’s the key tool to learning from your mistakes, and learning from your audience. Some of my most profound and life-altering educational experiences have been the result of good, honest, constructive criticism.

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    • 20

      Education is definitely key if you want to exhibit craftsmanship in your work, especially in web design. That’s why guys like Eliott Jay Stocks, Tim Van Damme, Andy Clarke are always learning and being the pioneers of the newer technologies. We ought to follow their examples and we need to be striving to learn and educate ourselves daily. Only then will we truly be “artisans.”

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  10. 21

    I would add few things in the process of craftsmanship:

    Vision – The artisan imagines a creation and draws the initial sketches in a paper. He designs for the future, but with the present in mind too.

    Ambition – The artisan envisions a original product or an improvement of a previous creation.

    Courage – Not everyone has the guts to create something. The courage is only achieved by practice and education.

    Patience – Attention to details comes here.

    Breakthrough – The stage when people realize you have something useful for them. The perfection is never reached, but you can come closer through feedback.
    .-= Paulo Miranda´s latest Blog Entry – The Evolution of Dubai =-.

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    • 22

      Excellent additions Paulo. I particularly want to address Courage.

      I can’t think of a better individual characteristic to possess than courage. As I was saying to Eric, above, I think one of the most important ways that we can grow as craftspeople and artisans is by coming to accept and value criticism of our work. I know that it takes real guts to face that sort of criticism. It requires setting aside ego, and really desiring improvement.

      Plus, success is scary. Becoming good at something, successful at something, means that you are subjected to increased scrutiny and increased criticism. If that doesn’t take courage, I don’t know what does.

      Thanks for the thoughtful commentary. I think your additions quite succinctly express the qualities and virtues of an artisan.
      .-= Richard Glover´s latest Blog Entry – Getting to WOW! : Designing for users =-.

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    • 24

      I completely agree with vision. We need to definitely be visionaries as well. I think the more proper word that we can use is creativity. We need to learn how to think outside the norm and be creative with our design creations.

      All the points that you mentioned were great and they all go together hand-in-hand. Thanks for sharing your thought and adding to the discussion, Paulo!

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  11. 25

    I also believe that good, quality work remains timeless..otherwise we wouldn’t pay homage to the awesome artists before us or our time..

    By the way I love the attention to detail for the images of the posts! :)
    .-= Melody´s latest Blog Entry – Time Machine: Sexy Concept Cars =-.

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    • 26

      Thanks Melody! It’s always great when someone notices the images. :)

      Yes, good quality work is timeless. Now in web design, that might be a little hard to accomplish as we have newer technologies that are always being added, but I think overall, if you take out all the bells and whistles of a site and you strip it down to just the design, it should still be solid, have great typography, layout, white space, contrast, etc. That’s a timeless design!

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      • 27

        This is the quality that I wanted to address when I spoke about designing for the future. Timelessness is a key element to items that exhibit craftsmanship. I think it really crucial that we do the best we can to create timelessness, within the bounds of reason and the limitations of our tools.

        Recognizing the rapidly changing face of technology, it’s the quality that is probably hardest to achieve. However, I think if we remain mindful of the future, and keep our focus on good fundamentals, we can accomplish the closest thing we have to timelessness in our work.

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      • 28

        “I think if we remain mindful of the future, and keep our focus on good fundamentals, we can accomplish the closest thing we have to timelessness in our work.”

        Couldn’t have said it better, Richard. It’s all about the basics, the fundamental tenets of design. These are what every designer should learn if he or she wants to be a craftsman.

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  12. 29

    I love the term craftsmanship in relation to design. That’s how someone can set himself apart from the mass, and that’s how we can design websites that last.

    There are some good points here. I also read about it only recently in Dan Cederholm’s book “Handcrafted CSS”, which is a good read.

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    • 30

      New here on Design Informer? Nice to have you Birgit.

      I agree with you. That term just sounds excellent when mixed in with design.

      I’d definitely have to look into purchasing that book. I’ve heard lots of good things about it but haven’t had a chance to check it out yet. Thanks for reminding me about that. :)

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  13. 31

    Great read. Truly above all accepting criticism helps in making things better but also at the same time we all should be careful of letting criticism dictate to us how we should design.

    Also thinking ahead is something we don’t do much of anymore it seems. I guess with all the hype of “gurus” saying to focus on the here and now we lose sight of where we truly are headed.
    .-= David´s latest Blog Entry – 18 Creative and Inspirational Advertisement Designs =-.

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    • 32

      Excellent points David. We always need to be thinking ahead and not just today. I think too many designers in the field are looking for the quick fix. They want everything now. That’s why we have lots of rip-offs and scam artists because they would rather make a quick buck than build a long-term relationship with their clients which will just eventually be better for them in the long run. I know, it’s a slightly different point to what you brought up, but it’s definitely part of looking ahead. :)

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      • 33

        It’s a great point you’ve made there actually. Not only in the design field do we face these problems but in every field. Long term relationships used to be a way of life where things were beneficial to all.

        When people started looking for shortcuts to make a buck fast then we developed less creativity and more duplicity.

        And also great point by Suhela below, clients seem to be so much in a rush to have things done like yesterday that it’s just easy for being creative to get lost.

        The big reset button needs to come into play so that the balance of design and creativity and the art of being a designer comes back and less of I made $xxx,xxx.xx this year and I’m so full of myself is around.

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      • 34

        “When people started looking for shortcuts to make a buck fast then we developed less creativity and more duplicity.”

        That’s exactly what I was trying to say David. thank you for your comments and for responding back to mine. :)

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  14. 35

    Nowdays, there is so much time constraint that we usually forget the word “craftsmanship”.

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    • 36

      Excellent point! Time is a big factor in truly “crafting” something and I think one of the main reasons why we rarely see “Craftsmanship” is because we live in such a fast-paced society that everything we do gets rushed. :D

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  15. 37

    Wow. Thank you for this great article. I really enjoyed to read it several times. In the most points the things you write are congruent with my own thoughts about web design approaches. A must-read for all the self-appointed webdesigners.
    .-= Frank´s latest Blog Entry – omone: Check Out: Graffiti Analysis 2.0 – A Digital Blackbook http://bit.ly/5lDA8y #graffiti #digital =-.

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    • 38

      Thanks Frank! I’m sure Richard appreciates your compliments. I agree, this is a must-read article for all web designers. It might really change their design philosophy.

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  16. 39

    Good article. I think that the CRAFT of design has been lost in recent years, mainly due to the democratization of design through software and obviously the Web. Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s fantastic that there are more people designing nowadays, but a lot are self-taught.

    As you said, long ago, people used to be apprentices to master woodworkers, blacksmiths, chefs, magicians. But now, with the availability of online courses, YouTube videos and tutorial sites, a lot of people are learning things on their own. Again it’s great to learn and do something new, but there’s a lot that is lost without the interaction with masters. I know that had I not interned with a master logo designer, I would never have learned any of his tricks and process.

    A lot of people forget or don’t even realize that graphic design has rules and professional standards of doing certain things. It’s not an open profession that allows you to do absolutely anything you want.

    I think typography is one of the biggest indicators of a designer’s craft. How’s the leading in this piece? What about the grid the type is on? Did she use the correct apostrophes or quotation marks?

    We should all strive to be professionals, in whatever we do.
    .-= Roger Wong´s latest Blog Entry – Re-Typesetting the Star Wars Crawl =-.

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    • 40

      I don’t fully agree with you…after all, all those youtube videos, tutorials, etc. you are talking about were created by humans (eventually even masters) themselves.
      Only because no one is actively teaching you doesn’t mean that you don’t learn from others in some way.

      I agree with you that in order to become a true “master” you have to actually learn from one (face to face or at very least mail to mail or something), but I think tutorials and articles are a very good way to learn the basics and to improve your skills.

      Logically you have to learn the right stuff – you will never become a successful logo designer by following only illustrator tutorials, you’ll also need to learn the basics of graphic/logo design (color theory, typography, etc.).

      I also agree with you that many people ignore or forget basic design rules and standards or just don’t know about them because they never learned about their importance.

      Great article anyway! Keep up the amazing work!
      .-= DesignLovr´s latest Blog Entry – DesignLovr Launch Party – Win Prizes Worth $1000+ =-.

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      • 41

        I think this is a particularly interesting, and highly pertinent, discussion. I think it speaks to the heart of our profession.

        I think, on one hand, Roger is certainly making a valid point in saying that there is something special to having that mentorship as you learn and grow as an artisan. Sometimes there are things that a mentor can teach that are simply out-of-reach for an auto-didact.

        On the other hand, we have the technology and the expertise to provide a degree of mentorship to those who are starting out on the journey. A mentor/apprentice role doesn’t have to be one-on-one, nor does it need to be face-to-face anymore. We have a unique opportunity that was simply not available to the craftsmen and artisans of old.

        It’s up to those of us who have the requisite expertise and knowledge to take responsibility for mentoring those of us who are just getting started. We can’t be stingy with our skills and knowledge. I think that a key part of being an artisan is the willingness to share the secrets of the craft. To that end, we need to build strong communities, and provide assistance to one another as we are able. Teaching is often just as beneficial for the education of the teacher as the student. I think that sort of discussion is the foundation for building craftsmanship and timelessness in our work as designers.

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    • 42

      @Roger – Really great points you bring to the discussion Roger! :)

      I can personally testify to this because I am self-taught as well. While I still believe that you can be a craftsman learning on your own, it is absolutely difficult to do and it is a long, drawn-out process that isn’t easy.

      I couldn’t agree with you more about typography. I’m still trying to learn and improve in this area, and it’s one of the key things that I focus on in my designs. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us.

      @DesignLovr – That’s one thing missing from a lot of the self-taught designers today. They know how to create and achieve certain effects in their designs, but they don’t have the knowledge of when to use it or why they should use it. The theory, basics, and rules of design and typography are key if you want to be a craftsman.

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  17. 43

    Great article!

    Quality craftsmanship is a special thing. It cannot be rushed, and it takes responsibility for absolutely everything within its scope. There is never an aspect that is not justified and thought about in the design, and the gestalt of such thoughtfulness almost always results in a great product and a devoted client. Apple is a prime example!

    The key to being an artisan is definitely knowing everything about your craft, from the inside-out, mastering the fundamentals and thoroughly caring for each little detail. That’s why I love the idea of web standards. It forces a certain degree of craftsmanship on code to avoid the web from becoming a sea of ‘ugliness’. Designing for a better future, indeed.

    Quality craftsmanship may take more time to create than a simple readymade or hashed-together design, in the same way a cobbler or tailor takes their time creating a pair of handmade shoes or the pieces of a bespoke suit, but the special attention to every detail becomes timeless. A cheap $100 H&M suit may go through several wears before falling apart, but a $1000+ bespoke suit is going to fit better, last longer, support the quality of handiwork, and one might even pass it down to their children. The moleskines I have have lasted much more longer than any other notepad. Their durability and quality have led me to keep buying moleskines devotedly even at their remarkably higher pricepoint. There is no substitute for great craftsmanship. I couldn’t agree more that it definitely applies to webdesign.

    Thanks

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    • 44

      Well said, thanks Brad!

      I think that standards are definitely the way to go, though I would also add that beyond standards is their implementation. I believe in semantic markup. I think it behooves us to try to keep our code as descriptive of the content as possible. I’m also a proponent of microformats, and the promise they offer of being able to use the data for applications beyond the browser. I see that as the future of our craft.

      Thanks for the great comment.
      .-= Richard Glover´s latest Blog Entry – Getting to WOW! : Designing for users =-.

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      • 45

        I agree with both of you guys. :)

        I like the analogies that Brad used about the suit and the moleskines. They definitely last and I guess the old adage holds true as well.

        “You get what you pay for.”

        I’m also with you guys about semantic mark-up and web standards. While this site doesn’t conform to all of them and while I’m not a master developer, I do take pride in these things and I try my best to follow by them.

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  18. 46

    Richard,

    Nice article. It’s fresh to see (ha) a word we don’t often hear anymore used in a design context.

    @Paulo Miranda. Dig the courage comment

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  19. 48

    Awesome article. Designers are artists, and all works should be treated like a work of art. I wouldn’t want to put my name on a work I’m ashamed of.

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  20. 50

    Great article, I really enjoyed reading it :).

    Unfortunately above all (practice, education, accepting criticism and other stuff You’ve mentioned), it takes TIME to become a good artisan.

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    • 51

      Very true Tom, very true indeed. Time is a huge factor in the process. We can’t just say it and make it so. We have to continually practice and improve. It requires some devotion to the ideals expressed here. But, I think it important that we keep these things at the forefront of our efforts. I’ve been doing work on the web for 15 years, but I’m just now getting the hang of some of these things in my own work. Every project I have I get a little better.

      In a world where instant gratification is king, it’s important to remember that sometimes the best things are worth waiting for.
      .-= Richard Glover´s latest Blog Entry – Getting to WOW! : Designing for users =-.

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      • 52

        You guys have both said it well and I just wanted to say that I agree with your conclusions.

        Time is such an important factor in being an artisan, it’s just most of us are way too busy doing other things that prevent us from really honing our craft and creating masterful designs.

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  21. 53

    The difference in levels of craftsmanship is vast but with the pace of the world we forget how much it takes to create a disposable razor. So many times I find myself fixed to the screen watching an everyday object we take for granted being made. The technology behind it is fascinating and the final product is just another throw away item. I don’t quite trust myself with a “cut throat” as I like to call them from the old days of Sweeney Todd : ) but want to give it a try.

    The disposable razors aren’t as sharp so don’t last as long, hence keep the production line flowing. But for a minute take a look at the moulding of the item, the size of the razors and think that this one item is designed to be used by everyone, its quite something. There probably was a time when the “cut throat” was seen as just an ordinary item, maybe not in the same way as now but I’m sure the average man didn’t all use a premium crafted razor. I will however agree that picking up an item that has history or crafted well is a pleasurable experience.

    We often just don’t take the time to look at objects anymore, when was the last time you opened up a watch to see the workings, its fascinating or maybe thats just me.

    We live in an era where everything is instant, “Our clients often want work done quickly and inexpensively.” but don’t check copy because we can change it online instantly a world away from checking copy before it goes to print. Our overall mentality has changed from product usage to shopping.

    Great Post and very valid 5 points.

    1 – Practice
    2 – Education
    3 – Accept Criticism
    4 – Attention to Detail
    5 – Design for the Future

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    • 54

      Well said Rajesh. We definitely need to be a little more observant.

      Here’s a great quote by Alexis Carrell:

      “A few observation and much reasoning lead to error; many observations and a little reasoning to truth.”

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  22. 55

    Thank you for the thoughtful post! Craftsmanship is critical, and yet there is no other quality requiring so much effort to develop. It is the sum of many sciences converging, especially in the web arena. To that end I couldn’t agree more with your five points.

    At the same time there is a quality others have touched on more abstract, but no less essential in the quest to become a craftsman—Taste! Taste is not Vision. Taste is not Patience. Taste is not Style. A craftsman must be driven to become so, dedicated and disciplined to his trade. However all these qualities and the 5 excellent points you made are secondary to Taste.

    Taste is a sensitivity, not unlike your palate. No matter the medium of an artist, whether a chef with his meats and plants, a painter with his oils or watercolors, or even a digital designer with his pixels and code, the quality most foundational to all others is Taste. Taste drives artists to practice, learn, receive criticism, be meticulous, and think of their work as a heritage rather than any common, disposable good.

    Defending taste is unnecessary. Those who posses it know this. They’re not artist to go-along, they’re artists because they recognize details others do not. Neither is it an enlightened quality, as though some mystical force were at work. Rather it’s a rare inborn quality, it cannot be bought or understood. A tool can be bought and it’s purpose understood, but this alone will not result in excellence. No one praises the pen of Shakespeare or the chisel of Michelangelo.

    Often those lacking taste, but desiring the quality, defend their position saying, “Everyone’s tastes are different.” I heartily agree and qualify with, “Some people have a sensitivity to detail and quality, which results in a resolve to settle for no inferior thing. Others lack this sensitivity.” For those who have this sensitivity skill must still be honed, tools must still be mastered. The difference: all effort is an investment in something they already posses, rather than something they wish they could be.

    Taste is essential and the greatest of all qualities. Every craftsman becomes so because they have taste. The world over recognizes craftsmanship, but recognizing craftsmanship and having the ability to become one diverge at that crux of Taste.

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    • 56

      Another excellent point that adds to the discussion of the article. I do think that we all have “taste,” it’s just some people’s taste is bad and others is good. For example, there are some people that no matter what they design, their taste always seem excellent, no matter what they design. I’ve also seen people who went to design school, know all the fundamental tenets of design yet their designs always seem boring, and it doesn’t really look all that great. I think the difference between the two is “taste.”

      I can tell by your comments that you indeed have good taste, Heath! :)

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  23. 57

    This is an excellent article. If I take one thing away from this it will be:

    “Developing craftsmanship in our work is the key to escaping those things that are less desirable about the business we’re in. It is the key to creating sites that rise above the mediocre and average, and it is key to earning the respect of clients and customers.”

    Thank you for your ongoing commitment to posting extremely interesting, highly relevant articles.

    I’m looking forward to reading your next post.

    Cheers

    Mike (http://twitter.com/digitalldesigns)
    .-= Mike Archer´s latest Blog Entry – 40 Excellent Websites Showcasing Expression Engine =-.

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    • 58

      We’re really glad that you liked it Mike, and moving forward, we will definitely try to keep our posts at the same quality and craftsmanship that this post displays.

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  24. 59

    What a great article! Words and phrases like “artisan,” “craftsmanship” and real “attention to detail” are seldom associated with today’s design communities.

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  25. 61

    Very well written Richard! Beautiful article with lots of interesting points to think about. Thought provoking… Thanks for sharing.

    -Deepu

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    • 62

      Thanks Deepu, and thanks to everybody who has commented so far. I’m glad you got something out of the article. I’d love to hear more thoughts on how we can create this sense of craftsmanship in the products we produce.

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      • 63

        Any good web designer should be a practitioner of good craftsmanship. Basically, Artisans employ creative thinking and manual dexterity to produce their goods. One of the 21st century artisans are Web designers. In the next ten years, we will see a re-emergence of artisans as an economic force. Like their medieval predecessors in pre-industrial Europe and Asia, these next-generation artisans will ply their trade outside the walls of big business, making a living with their craftsmanship and knowledge. But there also will be marked differences. In many cases, brains will replace brawn; software and technology will replace hard labor and raw materials, like iron. Yet in many respects, the result will be the same as it was centuries ago: artisans will craft not only their goods, but shape the economy with an effect reaching far beyond their neighborhoods, even their nations.

        What a great blog, full of practical knowledge. Thank you Richard for this great article. Jad, just want to mention that your posts are all thought provoking articles. Keep them coming. More power to you and to your writers. God bless. :)

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      • 64

        @Deepu – Thanks mate! We’re both glad that you liked the article.

        @Zanzu – Very true, the artisans of today are definitely working with newer tools and technologies, but the underlying principle remains the same. The 5 points that Richard gave were pertinent in the old times and they still hold true today.

        Thanks for the compliments and God bless you as well. :D

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  26. 65

    Ah, the age old battle between being a skilled craftsman and a service provider. I agree that practice, reading, asking, learning and more practice are the best ways to hone those artisan skills to a razor sharp edge (excuse the cheesy pun), but how does one find the time for such things when your are trying to run a successful business? And let’s be clear here, unless this is a hobby for you, your ultimate goal is to have a profitable business.

    In the beginning, for me, it was about knowing my limitations and not getting ahead of myself. I only took on one project at one time so I could dedicate myself fully to what I was working on (attention to detail is a skill set all unto itself). This was financially painful when I first began, but paid off in the end and allowed me the ability to do this full time and on my terms.

    Also, I stopped taking on projects that would be a mere regurgitation of work I have already done. Try to only take on projects that will challenge you to think outside of yourself. This goes a long way towards honing those skill sets and enabling you to evolve while working (generating income).
    .-= Erik Ford´s latest Blog Entry – Automatically Update your Website Copyright Year with Javascript =-.

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    • 66

      Hahaha! The comment about the comment about the “razor sharp edge” just killed me. (pun intended) :)

      Starting out, you definitely get a temptation to take every project as they come along and to just design and get things out of the way, check it off in your list, and make money, but like you mentioned, dedicating yourself to a project and putting the time and effort needed will definitely help you in the long run. Great advice, especially to those who are just getting started in this industry.

      Oh, and by the way, your craftsmanship definitely shows in your designs as well.

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  27. 67

    Great article. I think craftsmanship all derives from having a passion for what you do and a respect for whom you do it for. People are willing to pay us all money, we ought to respect that and earn our money by caring deeply about the quality of what leaves our studio, going that extra mile to deliver the best we can possibly manage. (of course tomorrow is a new day and no doubt we all move the bar slightly higher, but what is important is that at the time it was the best we could do)

    The dissenters all think this is too time consuming not a sustainable business model, but I would counter that this in the long-term is the only sustainable model.

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    • 68

      “Great article. I think craftsmanship all derives from having a passion for what you do and a respect for whom you do it for.”

      Dave, that is truly a thought-provoking statement. Being passionate about something will certainly allow you to learn more about it, to eat, sleep, drink, meditate on what ever it is. This is what I think of Apple. Steve Jobs really loves what he does and he believes in his products and that’s why they are superb. Sure, they cost a lot, but most people are willing to pay for “craftsmanship.”

      Also, you brought up another pertinent issue. Respect is a very important quality to have in this field yet so many designers are lacking it. Thanks for bringing that up. :D

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  28. 69

    Every article on Design Informer should be this inspiring. I love your writing style, Richard. Clear points made with examples outside of web design then tying it into what we do every day.

    This article and another article by Kyle Fielder have inspired me to approach how I bid a job differently. Next time, I will double my estimated hours, keep my hourly rate the same and make the best design (and code) I’ve ever made. Instead of trying to finish as quickly as possible, I’ll take my time to craft a truly beautiful and future-proof website. I think it will stress me out less while working on a project and ultimately improve the end result.

    The only problem I see with this approach is selling your potential client on the extra hours. I will need to convince them that it is worth the extra money. If they still insist on a cheaper package in exchange for a hand-crafted website, it might not be worth working with them.

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    • 70

      Thanks Kevin, I’m glad you liked the article. I’m so excited that Richard has agreed to be a regular writer here at Design Informer so I am definitely looking forward to reading more from him. He is very articulate, yet his writing style is easy to read and understand.

      By the way, I recently read that article as well and it also made a big impact on me as well. Oh, and I’m glad you made a commitment to really craft something beautiful for your next project. I’ve seen your designs and know what your capable of so I’m definitely interested in seeing that project and how it turns out. Make sure you send us a link. ;)

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  29. 71

    A wonderfully written and beautifully presented piece; thank you.

    I realize that you are addressing craftsmanship in design, but as a software developer I’ve been smitten with the idea of Software Craftsmanship since reading this book: http://www.amazon.com/Software-Craftsmanship-Imperative-Pete-McBreen/dp/0201733862/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1263528094&sr=8-1 by Pete McBreen. Regardless of whether you speak of shaving tools, design or software development, these ideals hold true.

    For myself I don’t think I’ll ever be an artisan, but that’s not my goal. My goal is to always strive to learn from those who I believe represent that which I want to emulate; to always hone my craft, to acknowledge that there is so much to learn, to never give in to mediocrity.

    It is a wonderful thing to re-connect consciously with these ideals after reading this. Again I thank you.

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    • 72

      Wonderful commentary Ron. Craftsmanship is certainly not limited to design, but rather this idea should be exemplified in all different types of industries and products.

      By the way, that’s a great goal to have. We might not all become artisans, but we can certainly strive for it and learn from those who already are.

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  30. 73

    I think it’s great that the idea of craftsmanship in web design has been coming up quite often lately. I guess that due to the dynamic nature of the web, and the fact that websites are usually viewed as being constant “works in progress”, that craftsmanship has always been overlooked. It’s quite apparent that craftsmanship is required in web design, just as it would be in other design fields, but with different criteria appropriate to the medium, just as you’ve described in this article.

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    • 74

      That’s definitely true, Ghaida. To me, it has been a breath of fresh air to read this article. Just like you, I’m also glad that “Craftsmanship” has been brought up in this area. Just in the past week, here are some a couple of articles that have referred to it.

      DrawarCoding Craftsmanship

      Seth GodinCraftsmanship

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  31. 75

    I am a graphic design student who is really aspiring to be a great web designer. Unfortunately my school is very print oriented. Something I have noticed with design students is that since our program is apart of the art department we tend to consider ourselves artists. From what I’ve seen, referring to yourself as an “artist” can raise so many problems with our profession. Students begin to feel like sell outs or even accuse one another of being a sell out when the business side of graphic design is brought up in conversation. More so, graphic design students at my school seem a bit confused when the old debate of whether your work should be a real representation of your own style or should we adhere to whatever the client wants above all.

    It has been my opinion largely for some time now that if we just refer to ourselves as craftsmen/craftswomen instead of artists, we would be doing ourselves SUCH a favor. This really would just be best to put our minds at ease about very petty discussions. I can’t speak for working professionals however, maybe it is different for them but for design students I believe it should be said more often. My opinion about all of this was really created when i began to read about the Bauhaus for an assignment, something that school did so well was really combining art and craft beautifully.

    Loved the article.

    -Patrick

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    • 76

      I think that’s an excellent point you make, Patrick. I’ve always felt it rather pretentious to consider myself an artist. And, in all honesty, I think the pretense that designers are artists is probably long-term detrimental to the profession.

      Which is not to say that design doesn’t have a definite artistry to it, just that if we maintain a belief that we are artists and not “just designers” I think we do a disservice to a profession that requires artistry to be tempered by practical concerns and limitations. It is a pretense that benefits neither artists nor designers.

      I think it rather important to recognize that we aren’t artists, we are artisans. We have a craft to produce, a product with practical concerns to be beholden to. We have businesses to run. The enterprise of doing Art is a different enterprise entirely, no more or less valuable, just different.

      Thanks for the great comment.

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    • 77

      I appreciate the comment Patrick. It’s a great thought. Here’s a great article that deals with “Art vs. Design.”

      The Difference Between Art and Design

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  32. 78

    Excellent metaphrastic description of what we do as designers/artisans. Well done!

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  33. 80

    Craftsmanship is like the grandmaster level in design. Everyone wants to attain that level yet it takes considerable effort and learning to reach it. Great article!
    .-= Aidan´s latest Blog Entry – 50 Digital Fairy Tale Character Illustration Collections =-.

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  34. 82

    Just want to thank you for a brilliant article. However I would like to point out that much to often the quality of the content (ie text quality) also needs attention…

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    • 83

      Thanks Tom. That’s an excellent point to ponder as well.

      Craftsmanship in web design isn’t just the actual design but the content as well. Thank you for pointing that out, definitely adds another element that we ought to think about.

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  35. 84

    Great article, Richard. Important ideas for me as I develop as/into a web designer. I’m neither a graphic artist, nor a programmer. I’m a librarian who finds himself living in both those worlds. Posts like this help the self-taught feel like they can gain a foothold.

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    • 85

      Hey Matt, glad you liked the post. A librarian? Sounds interesting.

      Keep on studying and learning and I hope you get better in web design over time. Thanks for commenting. :D

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  36. 86

    There is so much right with this post it’s astounding. Every time you feel as though a job is done, especially when all of the clients objectives are fulfilled, it’s easy to walk away feeling satisfied with your work. But every time you take another stab at adding or tweaking the design until it is just right, you walk away feeling proud. The craftsmanship you referred to is truly progressive.

    …printed and posted to the wall…

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    • 87

      Thanks for posting on your wall. Glad you found the article to be useful and helpful. Anyway, your writeup about craftsmanship is great. It definitely involves having a sense of pride in your designs.

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  37. 88

    Great article, when you said “Craftsmanship is the quality that comes from creating with passion, care, and attention to detail” I thought this sentence could be changed into “Design is the quality that comes from creating with passion, care, and attention to detail” .
    Craftmanship and design pursue the same goal, to create real beauty.

    Thanks for this writting.

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    • 89

      They do have the same goal, but everything is designed. Some are designed poorly and some are well-designed. But craftsmanship is when the designer takes pride in his work and goes above and beyond the norm and crafts something that is extraordinary. So in a sense, craftsmanship is a higher level.

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  38. 90

    This is a great, very timely, piece as most people in the design biz are so crunched for time in an effort to do anything humanly possible to keep their clients happy that patient, well thought out design is seen as a luxury instead of a necessity.

    I made this one of my three links for the day on my daily “Design Thought for the Day” blog:
    http://designthoughtfortheday.blogspot.com/2010/01/01-19-kill-your-web-business-nice.html

    All the best, Ted

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  39. 92

    The hardest for me was to accept criticism. Art is not supposed to be good or bad. For most of the biggest artists, their art was never understood. Graphic designers have a tendency to get very attached to their work. Once they are able to get over this hurdle, criticism become a lot easier to accept. Thanks for another great post guys!

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    • 93

      You are welcome. Thanks for dropping by again and leaving your thoughts.

      Yes, I do understand what you are trying to say. Criticism is definitely hard to accept, but we need to realize the fact that more often than not, the criticism is merely towards our work and it isn’t personal. :)

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  40. 94

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    @Laurent JOUVIN : I’m right there with you. Criticism is a hurdle many of us have difficulty with – I still do at times. I think an art school is as valuable for teaching an artist how to handle criticism as it is for anything else! The best way I learned to deal with it is to understand that criticism is to listen, weigh its worth, and decide whether it is worthy of action. If it isn’t… move on.

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  41. 95

    Great Post! I like the way you have related craftsmanship to web designing. The major problem with designers nowadays is that they cannot accept criticism. They feel their work is the best. Taking criticism as a positive feedback is the right way to handle things.

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  42. 96

    I love this article and think it is extremely helpful in any area of life. I’m so excited because I just got a new job and we’re using some of the themes from this article to help us improve our skills. I’m excited to work harder and apply this article to my new job!

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  43. 97

    Excellent post. In a world filled with “good enough”, it’s nice to see and read from folks championing and advocating “good”.

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  44. 98

    Great post! And so very very true… I’d like to think I answer all the above on a daily basis.. If not more… The main pitfalls I have are letting other front end devs build my wonderfully crafted sites. If I can do it to perfection… Why can’t they? ;) I know time and pressures are always factors but if it heeds the final the product by rushing it.. It’s time to step up your game! Developers should have the same zest as we designers… Then the world would be much happier ;)

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  45. 99

    great article. can you please provide links to your shaving tools of choice? it would be much appreciated – my husband sent me your article and now I know the perfect christmas gift for my fellow craftsman :) thanks in advance!

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  46. 100

    Indeed! The Apple products are a thing of beauty. The design is so simple and elegant but at the same time, they don’t sacrifice functionality and usability as well. Definitely a great example of craftsmanship.

    Thanks for the comment about the post layout as well. Glad you liked it. :)

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